Today is May 2, and while May 1 is traditionally May Day, I figured the second day of May was close enough to honor the upcoming season of fecundity and the bounty of summer But I must thank Sophie from Agents of Field for not only bringing May Day to my attention but also for providing additional information of the celebration, information I did not know.
May Day, of course, started as a holiday in many pre-Christian European pagan cultures, and it marked the first day of summer. May Day was a time for frolicking and folderol, a time to cut loose after winter’s confines and, I expect, its food scarcity. (Let’s just say that in Maine, May 1 is barely the beginning of spring, and between the cool weather and the blackflies, there’s not much inducement for frolicking. Nevertheless, I admire the spirit!)
In her post May Day Festivities, Sophie writes about “sprinting onto the lawn in my pjs and smearing May Day dew on my face which, according to ancient folklore, will guarantee lifelong beauty…” That was a new one for me, and although it’s probably too late, I sprinkled dew—all right, rain drops—from the cedars onto my face after I took a May Day picture of a hyacinth in bloom.
Then Sophie went on to write about Jack in the Green, a pagan character dressed in a cone of greenery. She tried to get her partner Ade to be Jack in the Green so that she could chase him up a hill and beat him with twigs. Apparently, Ade turned down the role, and after reading more about Jack’s leafy character, whom I knew nothing about, I understood why Ade was reluctant to play this fellow of the foliage.
Ah, the wonders of the Internet. From Agents of Field I skipped to Jack in the Green May Day Festival in Hastings, UK, where I learned about Jack’s dark fate. In Hastings, the Jack in the Green Festival is an annual event and ends with “the slaying of Jack, to release the spirit of summer for this year.” (Readers, if you have a chance, watch the short video of the parade on the Hastings’s website. Looks like quite the parade and one worth seeing.)
Oh, the merry month of May! In Maine, even though the weather is not quite as warm as we would like, it is a month of green beauty trimmed with a veil of flowering trees. It is a month in which to rejoice.
My friend Burni sends May greeting cards. What a lovely thing to do! If I can get my gardening under control, maybe I’ll do the same thing.
And I’ll watch out for Jack in the Green. Perhaps, out of the corner of my eye, I will catch a glimpse of him, streaking through the countryside as he is pursued by a fair woman ready to beat him with twigs.
Yesterday was all golden light in central Maine. Today, just the opposite—gray, chilly, and rainy. Clif has started the first fire of the season in the wood furnace in our basement. (In the winter, we mostly heat our house with wood. In the fall and spring, we use either electric or propane.)
Today would have been a perfect day to make the first apple pie of autumn. Indeed, that is what I had planned to do, and I had invited our friends Judy and Paul to come share pie with us. However, along with the gray weather, we have an uninvited guest—a cold. Right now it is visiting me, and I have no doubt that it won’t be long before it visits Clif. Couples are good at sharing such things.
Therefore, this morning I called Judy to cancel our pie get-together, and I promised to reschedule when the coast was clear, so to speak. A cold is a minor illness, but why spread germs when you don’t have to?
To make up for the gray day and the cold, both inside and out, here is a picture of red dwarf snap dragons—such a plucky flower!—and a red leaf.
I am reading Gladys Taber’s The Book of Stillmeadow, and I’ll conclude with the opening passage of the October section: “The special gift of frosty gold days comes now; time to lay down the household tasks and shut the door on routine. For every October, when I see the trees over the meadow, I think, ‘I shall not look upon her like again.’ And every October is different, strange with new beauty.”
This was true nearly seventy years ago, when the book was published. And no matter the weather or where the cold is, inside or out, it is true today in New England.
At least in Maine.
Yesterday, Clif, the dog, and I went for a Sunday walk up the Narrows Pond Road. It was one of those beautiful August days that was so perfect—so warm, dry, and sunny—that I wished I could hold onto that day and just keep it for use whenever the weather is bad, which it often is in Maine. But alas, good weather, like good times, cannot be held.
Up the road, on the right, there is a small meadow that is full of August wild flowers—black-eyed Susans, purple loosestrife, golden rod, and Queen Anne’s lace. I knew the light would be good, and I brought my camera along. When I go for walks and take pictures, quite often I am alone with the dog, and I have to put the retractable leash between my legs while I take pictures. I must say, it is much easier to take pictures when Clif has the dog.
I came to the little meadow, abloom with flowers. Clif and Liam continued walking while I took pictures.
The other day, I was taken by Susan. On this walk, I was taken by Anne. I didn’t plan this, and I was reminded of Gabriel Orozco’s “The poetic happens when you don’t have expectations.” I’m not sure if my fascination with Queen Anne’s lace was poetic, but I certainly didn’t have any specific expectations on this walk. There was only a general sense that I wanted to take pictures of the wild flowers. But on this day, Queen Anne’s lace took center stage.
On another walk, it might be something else.
It seems to me that one of the best gifts we can give us ourselves is the freedom to notice. And from this noticing, who knows what will happen?
I’ll end with a quotation from the great essayist Verlyn Klinkenborg, who was writing about the eighteenth-century naturalist Gilbert White. “He recorded what he noticed and in the pattern of noticing lies the art.”
We can’t all be be great artists, but maybe by noticing we can bring a little art into our lives.
Every day, I think, “I’ve taken so many pictures of my yard. Surely I won’t find anything interesting this morning.” But it seems I do. And the other day, it was the unfurling of the black-eyed Susans. They are at various stages in the garden, and how curious they look before their petals open.
Until finally, voilà!
Always something happening at the little house in the big woods.
I know. This is supposed to be wordless Wednesday, but when I downloaded my pictures this morning and came across this picture, I just had to share it on a second post. (I usually limit myself to one post a day. After all.)
I finally got a crisp picture of both the bee and the bee balm. No easy task when your camera is a little point and shoot and the subject refuses to pose. This is definitely a case where where persistence paid off.
What a way to start a beautiful day!
Yesterday, it was so hot and humid that I barely had the energy to move from my desk to the kitchen to make a vinaigrette for our supper salad much less dust the bedroom. But I did indeed accomplish both tasks. My reward? A lemon popsicle and time on the patio—where it was a little cooler—reading Village School by Miss Read, aka Dora Saint. (Read was a family name.)
Each year, as an end-of-summer treat, I reread the Chronicles of Fairacre, an “omnibus edition, comprising Village School, Village Diary, and Storm in the Village.” Even though I look calm, I am a jittery person, and Miss Read has a way of calming my jitters. All three novels follow the main character, also named Miss Read, who teaches in a village school in the Cotswolds. The books are not great literature—does all literature have to be great to be appreciated?—but Miss Read’s love of the natural world, her shrewd yet sympathetic take on human nature, and her humor never fail to delight me. Dora Saint has won praise from both the New Yorker and the New York Times, and with them I shall let the matter of her reputation rest.
Next to the patio, the bee balm has been knocked akimbo by the driving rains we have had each afternoon this week. Last Saturday, when our friends Paul and Judy came over for cocktails, the bee balm stood tall and proud. Now it looks as though a large, heavy ball landed in the middle of the patch. Such is the force of the rain. But the bees don’t care—straight or akimbo, the bee balm is irresistible to them.
While I read, I took many breaks to watch the goings-on in the yard. Next to me, a daddy longlegs skittered along the phlox, still in bud. Birds called as they flew from the trees to the feeders, and occasionally, a large dragonfly would zip by.
Last night, the weather broke, and today is fine and hot with a bright blue sky. A good drying day, as my mother would have said, and I have two loads of laundry ready to be hung on the line.
With this last day of July, which will have a second full moon this month—a blue moon—we are officially two-thirds of the way through summer in Maine. I love August and the hot, dry weather it often brings along with the loud buzzing of grasshoppers. I love the black-eyed Susans, the Queen Anne’s lace, and the golden rod in the fields. But August is also a sweet, sad month, the last month with nights warm enough to sit without a jacket on the patio.
To borrow from my friend Burni, who squeezes more joy out of an ordinary day than most people manage in a whole month, I will squeeze every bit of delight out of the golden month of August.
“Hostas can be difficult to work into a garden because they have a tendency toward pride, a self-assertion that can be offensive….they seem so much more physical than other plants, muscular: the heavy-weight champions of the garden.”
—Stanley Kunitz, The Wild Braid
I know what Stanley Kunitz means. I have a patch of hostas that have gotten so out of hand that it looks like Jurassic Park in the front yard. The hostas are elbowing the daylilies, which aren’t exactly slouches, and I have to pull back the hostas from time to time to give the daylilies some breathing room. I should divide the hostas, but I’m not sure where I’d put the divided plants, and I’d hate to just throw them out. Kunitz decided not to plant anything else with his hostas. That way, they could muscle each other. A smart decision, I think.
When I’m sitting on the patio, I always sit closest to the bee balm, right now in glorious bloom. Bees are indeed buzzing among the flowers, and I try to take a picture of them with my little point-and-shoot camera. I am not very successful. They’re not called busy bees for nothing. Bumble, bumble, yellow and black. They seem so slow yet they never really rest. (That might be a description of me as well.)
Hummingbirds are also drawn to the bright red flowers, and it’s even harder to get a picture of them. I’m not sure why I keep trying. I know the limitations of my camera, wee wonder that it is. But when those tiny will o’ the wisps are thrumming almost within arm’s length of me, somehow I can’t resist. A couple of times, a hummingbird has stopped in mid-flight to consider me, but only for a few seconds. Not long enough for me to get a good picture.
Fortunately for me, the flowers and plants stay in one place unless there is a brisk wind.
Right now, my backyard garden is in peak bloom, and we had friends over for cocktails on Saturday. The weather was good enough for us to spend the entire time on the patio, where they could admire the flowers. Clif made his legendary grilled bread, and I made Maine mules.
Summer, summer, summer.
So far, in Maine, this summer has been nearly perfect. Warm and hot during the day, cool at night, and just enough rain for the plants and flowers to flourish. Oh, I could take nine months of this. I know. I live in Maine, where it is downright cold much of the year. Perhaps that’s why summer here is so sweet?
My front gardens, with their profusion of evening primroses, come into their own the end of June and the beginning of July, when everything is an exuberant burst of yellow. However, all good things must come to an end, and so it is with the evening primroses, which are nearly done blooming. There are other flowers to look forward to—black eyed Susans and daylilies—and the hostas and ferns hold everything together, but for the front yard, the peak is over.
On the other hand, the back garden is just coming into its own. The Bee balm is in glorious red bloom—I can’t stop taking pictures of it—and soon there will be a profusion of especially lovely daylilies to join them. There will, of course, be more pictures.
I like to joke—well, maybe it’s not such a joke—that I have the worst yard in Winthrop in which to garden. There is shade galore, and much of it—especially in the front yard—is dry. Thirty years ago, we bought this house for other reasons—the price, the woods, the roominess despite its small size. It was our first house, and I hadn’t yet been bitten by the gardening bug.
However, after a couple of years here, I was bitten. Hard. I was young, I was strong, and I began digging like a fool. I planted willy-nilly, with little regard for the conditions. Let’s just say that there was plenty of heartbreak and loss. What I wanted was a blooming cottage-style garden. My yard had other ideas, and I wasted a lot of time, energy, and money before I came to my senses. In retrospect, I realize that I should have put raised beds in the front, which would have helped with the dry shade.
But, as the saying goes, we grow too soon old and too late wise. The gardens are dug, and I don’t have the energy or the resources to replace them with raised beds.
I have finally followed the advice of a friend who is an accomplished gardener. “For God’s sake, Laurie, plant some hostas.” This I have done. They are thriving in the dry shade, and they look cool and elegant until the slugs munch them to ribbons. I’ve also planted ferns, which are lovely. But, oh, my heart aches for hollyhocks and roses.
In the backyard, I am happy to report that I learned from my mistakes in the front yard, and the large garden along the patio is indeed a raised bed. There are only six hours of sun in that garden, but I can grow irises, bee balm, and daylilies. Phlox does well, too.
This might sound a little woo-woo—to borrow from my friend Susan Poulin—but the garden has taught me lessons. That is, conditions are not always ideal. We might want hollyhocks and roses, but instead we get evening primroses and hostas. Yet, in what we get, there can be creativity, value, and even beauty.
More photos from my mid-July garden.
On Sunday, while Mike, Dee, and Clif were at the movies, Shannon joined me for a day that was utterly delightful. Nowadays, it is rare for me to have time alone with either daughter, and when I do, I enjoy it so much.
In the afternoon, we played six rousing games of Fantasy Forest, a much beloved board game from Shannon’s youth. (We had hoped to play cribbage, but, alas, my board was nowhere to be found. I will have to get another one.) Although the three movie amigos laughed at us when they heard how we spent our afternoon, we assured them that even though the game was geared for children, there was, in fact, a fair amount of strategy that could be employed. I don’t think they believed us. But Shannon and I had good silly fun, and that’s all that really matters.
After the game, Shannon helped me make stuffed bread, and while it was resting, we went to the patio for drinks and appetizers. I had a Maine mule, which tasted ever so good on a hot, muggy afternoon.
We spent quite a bit of time on the patio, and we ate our supper there, too. When the bugs drove us in, we had homemade strawberry ice cream and watched some of the Fellowship of the Ring. (Yes, we are fantasy geeks.)
Shannon, Mike, and their two dogs stayed overnight, and the next day, Shannon went to the movies, too. Then, it was just me and the dogs. After cleaning up from brunch, I headed outside, where I relaxed on the patio, and the dogs alternated between scouting the yard and lolling on the patio.
Naturally, I found time not only to smell the flowers but to take pictures of them as well.
This dwarf balloon flower—Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Fairy Snow’ —just came into bloom.